Enda Kenny to step down as Fine Gael leader

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Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to step down as leader of his Fine Gael party tonight, clearing the way for Ireland to have a new head of government.

"Having inherited a country and an economy that was decimated by mismanagement, Enda's strong leadership and ability to make hard decisions was recognised both at home and overseas and saw our global reputation restored and strengthened", said Deputy Heydon.

The front-runners to replace Mr Kenny as Fine Gael leader and subsequently as taoiseach are Leo Varadkar, Social Protection Minister, and Simon Coveney, Housing Minister.

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Voters tired after several years of austerity turned to independents and protest parties in last year's election, leaving Kenny atop a fragile coalition. Fianna Fail agreed previous year to abstain in key votes to let the minority government run until late 2018.

Last year, he had indicated that he would not lead the Fine Gael Party into the next General Election.

The race is set to be dominated the two declared candidates: Varadkar, 38, and Coveney, 44.

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The new leader will take over from Kenny at the European Council in its negotiations over neighbor Britain's leaving, tasked with guiding the policy response at home where Ireland's economy is widely considered the most vulnerable in the EU to the fallout.

Kenny, prime minister since 2011 and the leader of his party for nearly 15 years, is expected to be replaced by a younger colleague - most likely Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar, the bookmakers' favourite, or Housing Minister Simon Coveney.

Kenny is due to visit the USA and Belgium early next month in his final trips as Ireland's Taoiseach, or prime minister.

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